Four years ago, at this same time, I wrote a column — five days before the election — knowing it wouldn’t come out until two days after the election. Here I am doing it again, and as was the case then, I’m writing it not knowing who the winners will be.
The subject of that 2016 column had to do with how a polarized nation would or could come together after the votes were counted. That’s my concern again, even more so, because I think that if we could measure such things, we would find that we are more divided now than we were four years ago.
My worry back then was that we would just resign ourselves to being polarized “from now on,” with no hope of finding common ground. It was the “no hope” part that I regarded as the saddest, most despicable thing about it.
Even though I had witnessed friendships break apart due to ideological differences and general nastiness being hurled all around, I still found consolation in believing that we had merely confused what I called our “strategies” and our “values.”
The “strategies,” I contended, are policy positions relating to things like taxes, environmental regulations, foreign trade agreements and other such issues. “Values,” on the other hand, are the principles we aspire to and that unite us as American citizens. These are the noble ideals, like "liberty" and "justice," found in the preamble to our Constitution. I take it to mean that if someone is being treated unfairly, then we’re supposed to do something about it to rectify the situation and to rebuke the perpetrator of injustice.
If there is damage being done, destruction being wrought or injury inflicted upon a person, group, or the nation as a whole, then our laws should serve to prevent, correct and compensate for it. I suggested that while we might differ on how to arrive at “a more perfect union,” we could at least agree on the values upon which it is constructed. I went on to say, “If that is not the case, then we’ve got a bigger problem than who is president.”
And you know what? We do.
The election is over, and at the time of this writing, I don’t know who won — not president, mayor, board of education, or all the various measures and propositions. Despite whichever candidates and issues get embraced or rejected, I am far less convinced and less confident that "We the People" in places across this land actually do share the same values.
Perhaps it is the grandeur of the words used in our foundational documents, representing, as they do, big, noble concepts, that leaves them open to interpretation. If so, then how about we bring it down to some simpler words and concepts — like fairness, kindness and honesty?
Can we agree that these things matter?
If so, then I’m confident that our national character and our democratic system of government can endure and prevail, even against threats from within and even if we happen to have scoundrels in positions of power.
As the late Justice Ginsburg stated, “The true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle. It is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.”
Being a student of physics, that makes sense to me.
If, however, we can’t even agree on the simple, common, everyday values, and instead subscribe to the lies and deceit of money, power and prejudice, then I seriously wonder what’s in store for the future of the United States of America.
Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Neither can a country. But it can change names and borders. That might sound farfetched, but it has happened to plenty of other countries, kingdoms and empires that were around a lot longer than us.
If we continue to try to form a more perfect union, then further yet-to-be-realized greatness awaits.